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10 Critical Signs Of Poor Blood Circulation for Diabetics

Diabetes’ effects start with the endocrine system-reducing the body's capacity to release the proper amount of insulin after blood sugar spikes- but they certainly don’t stop there. Diabetes is a condition that influences every part of the body.  A crucial system that is often affected by diabetes is the circulatory system, a complex network of biological highways that bring blood throughout your body.  Diabetes can cause the circulatory system to become compromised, especially when it is not properly managed. Chronically high blood sugar levels from uncontrolled diabetes can cause sugar-based material to build up on the walls of the blood vessels. This limits the amount of blood that can flow through, causing excess pressure, inflammation, and insufficient blood flow. 

When your circulatory system is compromised, you are at risk for a host of complications, ranging from minor aches and pains to heart attack and stroke. Two of the most common are peripheral arterial disease and diabetic neuropathy. Both of these can, as they progress, cause pain, reduce mobility, and enhance risk of heart attack or stroke. That’s why it is so important to be aware of circulatory issues if and when they come up, so that they may be addressed promptly to avoid any further complications. Symptoms can be sneaky, and if you don’t know what to look for, you might not connect the dots between a strange quirk in your body and a sign of circulatory deterioration. That’s why we have compiled a list of 11 crucial signs of poor circulation you need to be on the lookout for.  If you notice any of the following symptoms, be sure to contact your doctor so that together you can determine if they are related to uncontrolled diabetes and address them immediately. The circulatory system is-quite literally- the lifeblood of the human body, and when it’s in trouble, you are too. 

1. Brittle Nails

In healthy individuals, the cells that make up finger and toe nails quickly and constantly regenerate. However, when blood flow to the extremities is slowed or reduced, these cells do not receive the resources they need to do so, and as a consequence, may crack or break easily. The nails will feel brittle and may peel as well. While this may seem like a minor issue, it may well be the sign of a serious underlying problem. Aside from diabetes-related blood flow reduction, brittle nails can also be caused by anemia, hypothyroidism, Raynaud’s Syndrome, or be a side effect of cancer treatment. Regardless of the cause, however, brittle nails can cause serious risk to diabetics if nails on the fingers or toes break and pierce the skin. This can lead to injury, which, if untreated, can cause infection and dead tissue.

2. Hair Loss on Legs or Feet

Like brittle nails, hair loss on the legs or feet can be the result of slow cell regeneration and a weakening of hair follicles in the extremities. Hair may also grow more slowly than usual or come back in a different pattern. In some cases, especially if the hair loss is patchy and on your head, it may be the result of either bodily stress or a side effect of diabetes medications. If you notice a change in the hair on your legs or feet, contact your doctor right away. 

3. Dry or Cracked Skin

Dry or cracked skin, especially on the feet, can result from not enough blood getting to the skin cells in the feet. This means that they don’t regenerate fast enough, as they would constantly in a healthy individual. The dead and dying skin cells manifest as dry and cracked skin, which can easily result in open wounds that can be infected and slow to heal, turning a minor inconvenience into a major health issue.

4. Cold hands and feet 

Cold hands and feet are a telltale sign of reduced circulation. Less blood traveling to the extremities and warming them up means that you may have icy hands and feet even when the rest of your body feels fine. Wearing socks and gloves when you feet cold can help, but it’s best to address the underlying issue as well. 

5. Tingling or Numbness in the Hands and Feet.

By the same token, tingling or numbness in the hands and feet may be a sign that insufficient blood is getting to the extremities. These feelings can take the form of pins-and-needles or the body part feeling “asleep.” Blood is not circulating properly through these areas, which  means that you may step on something or develop blisters that go unnoticed due to lack of sensation. Once again, small injuries like these can develop into more serious problems if untreated.

6. Slow Healing Wounds

If you have a cut, blister, or other injury on your hands or feet that isn’t healing as fast as it should, or if it heals a bit and then reopens or otherwise regresses, it’s a sign that you may have reduced blood circulation to the area. It is very important that this is addressed immediately because open wounds can easily become infected and, in extreme cases, lead to gangrene and necessitate amputation.

7. Skin Discoloration

Discoloration of the skin, particularly a blue or purple tint and on the extremities. Diabetes can affect the small blood vessels just beneath the skin, altering or reducing the capacity of cells that make skin pigment and therefore changing the color. Other skin conditions such as unusual bumps, rashes, or scaly areas also indicate reduced blood flow. 

8. Erectile Dysfunction

Damage to nerves and blood vessels from long-term uncontrolled high blood sugar can cause an inability to get or maintain an erection. This can also be the result of common coexisting conditions like high blood pressure or heart disease. 

Muscle Cramps

  1. Glucose is required for muscles to contract and relax, so when blood sugar levels are too high or low, it impacts the body’s ability to regulate these activities properly, and the contracting may outbalance the relaxing, causing cramps. 
  2. Swelling in the Extremities

Poor circulation can allow fluid to pool in the extremities, resulting in the swollen, puffy appearance to hands or feet. Also keep an eye on your ankles and wrists. If you can press on your skin and leave a dent, you have edema and there’s a good chance circulation is an issue. 

9. Dizziness or Lightheadedness Upon Standing

If you get a headrush or see dark clouds each time you stand, or often feel lightheaded or dizzy during physical activity it’s likely that blood is not moving around your body quickly enough. Talk to your doctor, and take your time standing and sitting to avoid a fall. 


While diabetes may predispose you to poor circulation, you can take steps to improve your personal circulatory health. Below are some steps you can take to make sure that traffic on your inner highways is moving at proper speed for years to come.

  • Stop Smoking

Smoking is not only terrible for the lungs, but also for circulation. It is known to cause arteriosclerosis, or the buildup of fatty deposits in blood vessels that prevent proper blood flow. Quitting this single habit is a worthwhile endeavor for improving the health of your circulatory system.

  • Elevate Your Legs

Putting your legs up after exercise or a long period of standing can help keep blood from pooling in the feet and causing swelling. So go ahead, take a few minutes to enjoy the recliner. Just make sure you do not spend all day there. 

  • Exercise Regularly

As with many chronic conditions, regular exercise can hlep to improve symptoms and even prevent issues all together. Active individuals have better circulation, and exercise can also help to regulate blood sugar and encourage new cell growth.

  • Manage Your Blood Sugar

One of the single best things you can do for yourself to avoid ANY diabetes-related condition is to manage your blood sugar. Work with a qualified team to get-and keep- blood sugar under control through use of a healthy diet and exercise, medication, and/or insulin. Chronic high blood sugar levels are the primary causes of peripheral arterial disease and neuropathy in diabetics.

  • Wear Proper Socks and Shoes

Do not sabotage your health by wearing socks that leave dents in your ankles or on your feet. This is an unnecessary way to cut off your circulation and can be solved by simply purchasing a few pairs of socks intended specifically for those with diabetes. Likewise, wearing uncomfortable shoes that cause hotspots or blisters on your feet is an easily avoidable problem. There are a variety of stylish options of diabetic footwear in the market today, so you don’t have to sacrifice your appearance for your health.

Poor circulation is a serious issue with a host of potential side effects, and its symptoms are not to be ignored. It is vital that if you notice any of the above signs of your circulatory system struggling,, you talk to your doctor immediately to ensure that heart attack or stroke are not on the horizon. 


  • Beginning last year, I have had swelling of the left foot and ankle, especially after a long work day. I always tried to be careful of tight socks and had gone to diabetic mini quarters or no show socks. Very shortly I got tired of wasting an hour of my day with ice packs on my feet/ankles. So, I tried a lot of products but eventually wound up wearing compression pantyhose in the 8-15mmhg or 10-20mmhg range.
    There are a number of great brands and designs available for less than $25 a pair, are either unisex or made for men that hold up well with care. Over a couple months wearing these type hosiery with diabetic socks over them, my leg swelling is no longer a problem. Also, the leg discolorations are significantly lightened, my feet are ticklish again and my energy increased as well.
    It’s perfectly ok for men to wear thigh highs or pantyhose especially for these reasons, but it’s also important to discuss with & have your wife or partner’s acceptance to do so. Mine was OK from the very beginning, but some are not. Talk to them. There are also internet discussion boards out there that are good, caring, discrete, safe, and clean places to share & learn about the right designs, types and vendors that may be of valuable help for your leg health. Don’t be afraid to search them out and participate.
    Finally, for me, besides the hose, good quality diabetic socks are a rock solid base to optimize and even improve your leg health. Get socks that will be soft & not blister, will keep your feet dry and not be restrictive to your legs. My other advice is to change your socks at least twice daily. Wear one pair to work / play / chore in, then come home and change into fresh socks and shoes for home. Lastly I also buy shoes that are supportive and yet have a good memory foam construction to them. I’m glad I figured these things out before it was too late.
    I hope my experiences are helpful to someone who reads this.

    K. Allen Ballard
  • My Grannie and Mom were both bitteral diabetics, and now I have been since 1995. I have changed the way I eat and don’t eat any white starched at all, exercise (walk everyday), and changed my attitude to positive things. I am on the insulin pump, but my glucose levels are still out of control, I take 100 units of insulin/day. Even my endocrine specialist is amazed that the pump is not working for me.,

    So what is the next step for me to do.

    Vickie Pedersen
  • This is a very informative article. I’ve had diabetic neuropathy for several years and can’t know when I have on my shoes and/or socks, especially in when I’m in the bed. All the other information is very helpful also In addition, my hands are nearly numb, and I can’t use them for very much at all. I was a pianist, but am not any more and my attempts at artistry have gone by the wayside. I wish I’d had all this information a long time ago.

    Carol Mahala

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